by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVEâ€”Veronica Seawall spent part of her summer vacation letting children feel the thickness of a snow leopard’s fur pelt, demonstrating the size of a lion’s skull, and fitting her entire hand into a polar bear claw.
Veronica, a resident of Sugar Grove and a 15-year-old Kaneland High School sophomore, joined 130 other high school students who participated in the Youth Volunteer Corps at the Brookfield Zoo this year.
A session of Career Cruising, a computer program that lets students assess their skills and explore how they might use them, confirmed for Veronica that her future belonged in a career with animals. Since one of the careers she identified was zoology, her mom, Christy, did some research at the Brookfield Zoo and found the program that would give Veronica a great learning and work experience.
Christy, a professional career coach, said she was impressed with the selection process. There is much interest in the program and just 30 to 40 openings each year.
â€œIt was a pretty extensive screening process,â€ she said.
Veronica filled out an application, answered several essay questions and obtained three letters of recommendation. Then she was chosen to participate in a group interview with a number of other applicants. When she was accepted into the program, she took part in a week-long training and orientation before she began her job as an interpretive guide.
She spent each day at the zoo stationed at three of 15 different exhibits, showing visitors animal fur pelts, skulls and other artifacts give zoo guests a real sense of the characteristics of the animals they were viewing.
She was able to share facts she learned in training, such as that a lion sleeps 22 hours a day and eats only twice a week. But more than simply lecturing, Veronica said she was able to engage young people in discussions about the animals and their habitats.
â€œIt was a great opportunity for me to learn, and I met tons of new people,â€ she said.
Although she has not yet formally studied zoology, Veronica said she has completed projects at school that are related. She said she learned that zoologists have an interest and involvement in conservation, and they might either become educators to the general public or conduct animal research in the wild or library.
She hopes to pursue this career path further and said she will return to the program next summer.
The program lasts from mid-June through early August, and requires a commitment to work at one of two upcoming events at the zoo, Boo at the Zoo or Holiday Magic. She said she plans on being there for both of them.
Find out more about the Chicago Zoological Society’s educational programs at Brookfield Zoo www.czs.org